W Rail opening shines green light for region

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By about 5 p.m. April 27, the line of people at the Jefferson County Government Center light-rail station in Golden no longer extended over the hillside toward the foothills.

The moment seemed to round out a monumental weekend for RTD that featured two days of free rides on the newly opened W Rail light-rail line.

We witnessed an enthusiastic launch for a project that came in eight months ahead of schedule, and we later reported that RTD estimated 35,000 riders rode the rail on that Saturday.

We went for a ride as well and were impressed with the 35-minute trip from Golden to Union Station.

The train mostly travels a track line that has existed for a century — so as expected, homes, buildings and business properties are nestled by the track.

And interspersed with the old is new development.

Yes, times have changed.

Interestingly, it has been more than one economic downturn since “smart growth” and “infill” development were common terms in these parts. But we remember the concepts and are pleased to consider the impact of the W Rail in offering another mass transit option and infill redevelopment.

Increased mass transit is welcome in many ways, not just for redevelopment but for quality of life — consider Jefferson County, which sports one of the oldest populations in the state, with about 13.1 percent over 65 years of age, while the state average is 11.3 percent.

The corridor’s 11 new W Rail stations — including the Federal Center and Red Rocks Community College — are important stops, sure to be energized day in and day out. The idea to schedule “parties” — in other words activities and booths — at each stop along the 12.1-mile route was a good way to introduce the personalities of the stops and their adjacent neighborhoods to the region.

And the new line extends east to existing light-rail stops at Auraria West for Metropolitan State University, the Pepsi Center, Sports Authority Field and finally Union Station.

We heartily welcome this line that extends straight west, a little different from the more north-and-south-oriented existing Denver metro rail corridors. Locally, some business development folks said the project has put Jefferson County on a more even playing field.

The business community is primed to tap opportunities to develop the corridor and attract workers — after all, the corridor was on the drawing board before FasTracks was approved.

And from a more regional point of view, we know the impact of the entire plan will increase as each additional corridor is completed and the FasTracks plan — which is admired internationally — comes to fruition.

Sure, FasTracks has had its cost issues and completion issues — particularly with the North Metro Rail Line — but for now we can enjoy the freshly energized corridor between Golden and downtown Denver.